Amid much fanfare and streams of “tears of joy,” a new US$259 million international airport was officially opened Monday in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
The Argyle International Airport (AIA), located along the eastern coast of mainland St. Vincent, was opened, with a flag-raising ceremony, after six years behind schedule.
Thousands of nationals attended the opening ceremony, addressed by Prime Minister Dr. Ralph E. Gonsalves, who had made the AIA a major plank of his administration’s objectives.
He said the AIA is “a symbol, it is a metaphor of what is possible in us.
“Do not ever allow any people, any nation to impose on us limitations to our imagination,” he said. “Only we, as a self-governing people under God, with our own individual sense of being, only we must impose limitations on ourselves.
“Any other notion is a colonial one, and it is debilitating, and it will hold us back,” he added. “Whatever we set our minds to achieve, with patience and calm, we can achieve, as we have seen it here.
“This is a bridge to the world,” the Vincentian leader continued. “And this plan didn’t just come from us. It is a combination of human intelligence and divine inspiration.”
He lauded the “Coalition of the Willing” for helping to make AIA a reality, identifying among the coalition the governments of Trinidad and Tobago, Cuba and Venezuela.
“We have had contributions from countries – some of them do not have diplomatic relations with one another,” Gonsalves said. “And part of the creativity and skill of the government was to bring all of these countries together to assist the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.”
He said export credit guarantees from the United States, Canada and Great Britain also aided with “certain items of equipment,” which were obtained on “better interest terms.”
A number of international chartered flights arrived at AIA on Tuesday. These included Caribbean Airlines and Dynamics Airline, which departed from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.
Lennox Joslyn – chairman of the Fundraising Committee of the Brooklyn-based umbrella Vincentian group in the United States, Council of St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ Organizations, U.S.A., Inc. (COSAGO) – said he couldn’t wait to land at AIA.
“It’s an historic flight, and I can’t miss this for the world. I think it’s a significant milestone for St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and all Vincentians should embrace it, as we move forward.
“I want all Vincentians to move on this [welcome AIA],” added Joslyn, a member of the Brooklyn-based Striders Social and Cultural Organization, who was born at Diamond, a short distance from AIA. “Forget about politics.”
Chief executive officer of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Tourism Authority, Glen Beache, said in a statement that the AIA boasts a runway that is 9,000 ft. long and 250 ft. wide, and is “capable of accommodating aircrafts as large as Boeing 747-400’s.”
He said the 171, 000 sq. ft. terminal building is designed to accommodate 1.5 million passengers annually.
Beache, a former tourism minister, in the Gonsalves administration, said AIA is further enhanced with two jet bridges, restaurants, bars and other shops – “all designed to provide passengers and airport employees with a pleasant experience.”
“Tourism has been the major economic earner for St. Vincent and the Grenadines for the last two decades, and it is expected that the new international airport will increase earnings in this sector, as well as other critical sectors, including agriculture, fisheries,” Beache said.